Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year In Review, Part 2

The biggest moment in Princeton Athletics in 2015?

It's easy for TigerBlog to narrow it down to two things. Picking between them isn't easy.

Was it when the Office of Athletic Communications moved downstairs? Or was it the "Who's the Tiger" series?

Okay, okay. Neither one of those really was the No. 1 moment.

TigerBog counted down from No. 15 to No. 8 yesterday. If you missed it, just click HERE.

Today, before the frivolity of however you choose to spend your New Year's Eve, TigerBlog gives you the rest of the list, Nos. 7 through 1.

Before that, three things:

1) this is TigerBlog's list, so your choices might be different
2) only performances with Princeton Athletics count, so the incredible year that Princeton alums had in pro sports aren't part of this list
3) be careful this New Year's Eve, and have a great 2016

In case you didn't click above, here's Nos. 15-8:

No. 15 - Men's water polo gets to the NCAA tournament
No. 14 - Quinn Prchal wins the Ivy golf title
No. 13 - A Swimming and Diving sweep
No. 12 - Both tennis teams play in NCAAs at Virginia
No. 11 - Field hockey team wins another Ivy title and gets an NCAA win
No. 10 - Orban and MacDonald have monster senior years
No. 9 - Men's track and field wins the "Triple Crown"
No. 8 - Women's lacrosse runs through the Ivy League and to NCAA quarterfinals

And the rest of the top 15:

No. 7 - Lizzie Bird and the women's cross country team run wild
Lizzie Bird crossed the finish line at the Ivy League Heptagonal individual title. Then it was time to wait for the second-place finisher. One-Mississippi. Two-Mississippi. Three-Mississippi. Four-Mississippi. Five-Mississippi. Six-Mississippi. Seven-Mississippi. Eight-Mississippi. Then the next runner arrived. Bird's eight-second win at Heps propelled the Tigers to a dominant team win. It also started Princeton on the way to a great November, which included a 2-3 finish by Emily de La Bruyere and Bird at the NCAA Regional (held at Princeton) as the Tigers earned a spot in the NCAA championships, where Bird would finish 58th and Princeton would finish 21st.

No. 6 - Princeton wins all four women's Ivy titles in the fall
First it was the women's cross country team. Then it was field hockey and women's soccer. Then women's volleyball. Four women's teams compete in Ivy League sports in the fall. All four won Ivy League championships. In the entire history of the Ivy League, that had never happened before. Before Princeton's women in 2015, no school had swept every sport in one gender in one season.

No. 5 - Tyler Lussi and Mimi Asom score a lot of goals
The Princeton women's soccer team ran away from the field in the Ivy League, going 6-0-1 to earn the title and a spot in the NCAA tournament under first-year head coach Sean Driscoll. Playing at home, Princeton then defeated Boston College 4-2 before a second-round loss to USC ended the season at 14-4-1. Oh, and of Princeton's four goals against BC? Tyler Lussi scored two, and Mimi Asom scored the other two. Was this out of the ordinary? Nope. Asom, the Ivy League Rookie of the Year, tied the Princeton record with 12 goals. And Lussi? She went for 15 goals and 35 points, both of which led the Ivy League, and she'll enter her senior year with 43 goals, four off the school record. She was the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year for the second-straight year and a second-team All-America.

No. 4 - A record five wrestlers reach the NCAA championships
Maybe he hasn't gotten the acclaim that some of Princeton's other coaches have, but it's hard to overstate just how great a job Chris Ayres has done in building Princeton wrestling into a national factor. Princeton wrestling had won one Ivy match total in the five years - and had lost 18 straight -  before Ayres became head coach in 2006-07. Turning the corner wasn't easy, but Ayres has now had three winning records in the league, including each of the last two years. The 2014-15 season ended with a program-record five Princeton wrestlers advancing all the way to the NCAA championships: Abram Ayala, Chris Perez, Brett Harner, Jordan Laster and Jonathan Schleifer. Once there, all five - all of whom returned this year - advanced to the second day of the competition. Princeton has continued to build on that success in the first half of the 2015-16 season.

No. 3 - A comeback for the ages
On Oct. 17, the Princeton women's volleyball team lost 3-0 at Yale to fall to 3-4 in the Ivy League. The preview story for the next match, against Penn, started out with the idea that no team had really established itself but cautioned that head coach Sabrina King was "less focused on the standings and more interested in her team's performance against the Quakers, who opened the Ivy League season with a 3-1 victory over the Tigers at Dillon Gym." In other words, it seemed like Princeton was playing for some pride in the second half of the season. Then a funny thing happened. Princeton knocked off Penn to get back to .500. Then it avenged its other three league losses, stampeding through the league 7-0 the second time around. Going into the final weekend, as many as four teams were still alive for the championship. Princeton did what it needed, sweeping Cornell and Columbia on the road, and got the help it needed too, as Harvard fell to Yale, leaving Princeton and Harvard as co-champs. Princeton became the first team ever to start a season 0-3 and win an Ivy title in any sport with a double round-robin.

No. 2 - Two of the greatest ever
If the greatest male athletes of all-time at Princeton are Hobey Baker, Bill Bradley and Dick Kazmaier, then who is the greatest female athlete, or athletes? There's no clear-cut answer, and a case can be made that the two best competed at Princeton in 2015 and will be back next year. First, there's Julia Ratcliffe. The 2014 NCAA hammer throw champion, Ratcliffe finished second in 2015 - despite throwing further in 2015 than she did when she won it all. The other is Ashleigh Johnson, the goalie on the women's water polo team. Johnson sent NCAA tournament records for saves in a game with 22 against UC-Irvine and saves in a tournament with 50 in three games, as she led Princeton to a sixth-place finish nationally. Both Ratcliffe and Johnson are complete athletes, with speed and strength that transcends almost any realistic expectation of a collegian. In fact, both are international-caliber in their sports, and both are taking the 2015-16 academic year off to train for the Olympic Games. They'll be back in 2016-17 as seniors, when they will complete their careers and put the final chapters on their cases to be the best who've ever played here. What they've done so far might be enough to make that claim regardless of what comes next.

No. 1 - What else would it be?
There can really be one top story for Princeton Athletics in 2015, with all due respect to all of the great teams, athletes and coaches who wear the orange and black. In 2015, the No. 1 story is the women's basketball team. Princeton put the finishing touches on a 30-0 regular season, unprecedented in Ivy women's basketball history and done only once in men's Ivy basketball, and then defeated Wisconson-Green Bay 80-70 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament in what TigerBlog would consider the Game of the Year in Princeton sports. The season finally ended with a loss to Maryland, who would reach the Final Four, in the second round, on Maryland's home court by the way, as Princeton ended its season 31-1. Princeton had its first NCAA win in program history and just the second ever by an Ivy women's basketball team, and the Tigers finished the year as the highest ranked team in Ivy women's basketball history with a No. 13 national ranking. In addition to an endless number of individual honors that team members won, Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart won the Naismith National Coach of the Year Award. By season's end Princeton women's basketball captured national attention from almost every major outlet (not to mention the President of the United States and two Supreme Court Justices, all of whom attended the NCAA tournament games), and it galvanized the local community in a huge way, as Princeton women's basketball games became can't-miss at Jadwin Gym. The team represented the very best of Princeton University, with one engaging player after another, one award-winning scholar after another, one service-conscious team member after another. Princeton will not have a second-straight perfect regular season, but the Tigers have already drawn nearly 2,000 fans to Jadwin for a huge, nationally televised win over Michigan and continue to play at an extremely high level. The No. 1 story of 2015? The women's basketball team.

What will be the No. 1 story of 2016? TigerBlog is looking forward to finding out.

In the meantime, Happy New Year to everyone. And again, be careful and safe tonight.

1 comment:

Glenn Adams '63 said...

A great list which serves to highlight how exceptional a year Princeton's women's teams and athletes had since 7 of the top 8 stories involve Tiger female teams/athletes, and the list doesn't even include Princeton's women's fencing team which finished 3rd in the nation.

The combined men's and women's fencing team's 4th place national finish and the men's heavyweight crew program's 3rd place national finish (tops in the East) probably warranted a mention in the top 15 stories especially in view of the following:

The only fencing program in the nation to finish in the top four at the NCAA Championships - a combined men's/women's event - in each of the last five seasons, Princeton took home a fourth-place trophy last year.

Similarly, Princeton was one of four men's heavyweight rowing programs to place in the top 3 finals at IRAs and the top varsity boat finished only behind Washington and Cal and the 2nd varsity boat only behind Washington.